- Gloating Europhiles hailed Theresa May’s humiliation tonight after judges ruled she cannot trigger Brexit without approval from parliament.
The dramatic decision at the High Court raises the prospect of months of delay while MPs and peers fight a rearguard action against cutting ties with Brussels.
It sparked furious accusations that ‘activist’ judges are mounting a ‘power grab’ by siding with pro-EU campaigners against the will of the public.
But the businesswoman and former model who spearheaded the legal challenge, Gina Miller, goaded Brexiteers by saying they should ‘celebrate’ the ruling.
Scottish First minister Nicola Sturgeon welcomed the outcome as ‘significant’, while former Cabinet minister Ken Clarke said giving parliament the power would help stop ministers ‘squabbling’.
The case was brought by British citizens Gina Miller, a business woman, pictured outside the High Court after the landmark ruling today
Judges delivered a ‘slap in the face’ to Theresa May (pictured at last night’s Spectator Parliamentarian of the Year awards in central London) today as they ruled that MPs must be given a vote before the Government fires the starting gun on Brexit
The premier had wanted to invoked Article 50 – which begins the formal two-year Brexit process – alone.
But the judges insisted that would be unconstitutional and she must pass legislation through parliament.
Downing Street insisted Mrs May still believed she should be able to launch the mechanism under so-called ‘royal prerogative’ powers granted to ministers.
The stage is now set for an extraordinary showdown in the Supreme Court next month – with the fate of the country potentially at stake.
Another setback there could force Mrs May to put legislation through Parliament, opening the door for Europhile MPs and peers to delay or even wreck Brexit.
Two-thirds of the Commons backed staying in the EU, and the Lords is also believed to have a Remain majority.
Mrs Sturgeon suggested her 54 SNP MPs could oppose invoking Article 50 if there is a Commons vote.
‘Scotland voted to remain in the EU and my job is therefore to protect our place in Europe and in the single market as far as I possibly can,’ she said.
BATTLE BETWEEN MINISTERS’ AGE-OLD PREROGATIVE POWERS AND PARLIAMENT
The High Court battle turned on whether the age-old royal prerogative rules trumped the sovereignty of parliament.
Theresa May’s lawyers argued that she is able to invoke Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty – the formal two-year process for leaving the EU – using the powers, which have been at the heart of UK foreign affairs for centuries.
Historically, the list of prerogative powers that can be exercised by ministers include declaring war, pardoning criminals, and regulating the Civil Service.
But the judges backed the legal challenge brought by Remain supporters, who said the prerogative powers were not sufficient and parliamentary approval was needed for an act that would in effect repeal legislation.
‘SNP MPs in the House of Commons will certainly not vote for anything that undermines the will or the interest of the Scottish people.’
Amid a wave of condemnation on social media of the controversial decision, Ukip leader Nigel Farage warned there would be public outrage if parliament used its power to block the referendum result.
‘I worry that a betrayal may be near at hand,’ he said.
‘I now fear that every attempt will be made to block or delay the triggering of Article 50. If this is so, they have no idea of the level of public anger they will provoke.’
But Mrs Miller responded: ‘I think Mr Farage should be more responsible in his messages because he himself, presumably, believes in the sovereignty of Parliament because he spouted about it throughout the referendum.
‘So I would say to him: You should celebrate the win today because the ruling is one that protects the sovereignty of Parliament’.
Tory grandee and arch-Europhile Mr Clarke said the Government will have to give MPs a vote on its Brexit strategy in a return to ‘proper parliamentary democracy’ rather than decisions being taken in Cabinet committees of ‘squabbling colleagues’.
He told BBC Radio 4’s PM: ‘I think the argument that somehow everything has been decided by this one vote is wrong, it’s a childish attempt to avoid debate, the vote was we leave the EU, but it was silent on the terms.
‘Even the leading campaigners, the leading Brexiteers do not agree with each other (on the terms).’
Former Remain campaign chief Will Straw said: ‘Brexit still means Brexit. But sovereignty means sovereignty too.’
Labour MP Stephen Kinnock accused Brexiteers of being ‘scared’ of parliament.
Mrs Miller (right) was clearly jubilant at the High Court after the ruling was announced. Scottish First minister Nicola Sturgeon said the outcome was ‘significant’
Match of the Day presenter Gary Lineker ridiculed Brexiteers’ anger with a post on Twitter
‘There was a pre-referendum majority for Remain in the House of Commons, there is now a post-referendum clear majority for Leave,’ he said.
‘I don’t know what Dominic and the Prime Minister and all these people are scared of.
‘Why don’t we just have a mature, sober debate in Parliament, as we do on any issue that comes before us, and this happens to be the most important since the Second World War.
‘Let’s have the debate, let’s put it forward.
‘In terms of an election, bring it on.’
Former Lib Dem leader Lord Campbell said today’s ruling was a ‘clear illustration of the well-known legal principle that no matter how high you are, the law is above you’.
Gordon Brown called for parts of the UK to be given powers to negotiate their own Brexit deals
Nicky Morgan, a former Cabinet minister and Remain campaigner, said the High Court had ‘asserted democracy’. Labour MP Stephen Kinnock accused Brexiteers of being ‘scared’
‘It is a slap in the face for the Government. It shows the dangers of playing ducks and drakes with the constitution and particularly the sovereignty of Parliament.’
Nicky Morgan, a former Cabinet minister and Remain campaigner, said the High Court had ‘asserted democracy’ with its ruling and said the chances of the Government hitting Mrs May’s Article 50 deadline of the end of March were ‘quite strong’.
Former PM Gordon Brown called for nations and regions to be given powers allowing them to negotiate directly with the European Union.
‘We need wholesale reform because today the United Kingdom appears united in name only,’ he said.
‘Politically, the strains of Brexit are already showing, as different nations, regions, sectors and companies desperately seek their own opt-outs from a hard Brexit and call for their own a la carte version of Brexit.’
POUND SOARS AFTER HIGH COURT RULING
The pound soared after news of the High Court decision today
Sterling leapt to a three-and-a-half week high against the US dollar after the High Court ruled that Brexit must face a parliamentary vote before Article 50 is triggered.
The pound surged to 1.249 versus the dollar, before paring gains to trade up 1 per cent at 1.243.
Three senior judges ruled that Prime Minister Theresa May does not have the power to use the royal prerogative to push the button on Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty without the prior authority of Parliament.
Sterling also climbed 1 per cent against the euro to 1.120, despite the Government’s immediate announcement that it would appeal against the decision at the Supreme Court.
Match of the Day presenter Gary Lineker ridiculed Brexiteers’ anger with a post on Twitter.
‘Absolutely outrageous that parliament might have to make a political decision on the country’s future,’ he said sarcastically.
Ukip leadership frontrunner Suzanne Evans said: ‘How dare these activist judges attempt to overturn our will?
‘It’s a power grab & undermines democracy.
‘Time we had the right to sack them.’
Brexit Secretary David Davis said the option of having a one-off Commons vote on invoking Article 50 was ‘not available’ to the government due to the fine print of the court ruling.
Instead it will need to table primary legislation and get it through both Houses unless the court ruling is overturned.
The development immediately fueled speculation that Mrs May will call a general election before 2020.
Under the Fixed-term Parliaments Act, the next election is not due to take place until 2020 unless the Government loses a vote of no confidence or there is a vote by MPs with a two-thirds majority in favour of an early election.
It is very unlikely that the government could pass primary legislation in time to achieve Mrs May’s goal of beginning Brexit by the end of March.
Many MPs believe the PM will not want to hold a general election too close to the moment when the UK actually leaves the bloc, as it could be a turbulent period.
They suggest any delay to Article 50 would make her more likely to opt for a national poll in 2018.
The Prime Minister’s spokeswoman appeared to water down her stance on an early election slightly this evening – merely saying there ‘should not’ be a vote before 2020.
‘There shouldn’t be a General Election before 2020 – that remains the Prime Minister’s view,’ the spokeswoman said.
Downing Street insists the decision of the Supreme Court will be final, and believes there will be no recourse to European courts because the matter is a question of UK constitutional law.
Deustche Bank has now installed an election before 2020 as its ‘base’ prediction.
Tory former minister Dominic Raab said an election could happen if Remain-backing MPs tried to block the triggering of Article 50 in a Commons vote.
Appearing on BBC Two’s Daily Politics, Mr Raab said: ‘I think that’s the Pandora’s Box.
‘I think the elephant in the room here is if we get to the stage where effectively Stephen and his colleagues are not willing to allow this negotiation to even begin, I think there must be an increased chance that we will need to go to the country again.
‘I think that would be a mistake and I don’t think those trying to frustrate the verdict in the referendum will be rewarded.’
Labour MP Mike Gapes, a Remain supporter, said a general election before Article 50 is triggered was now likely.